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Overclocking: Nvidia With CoreCenter And AirForce

Graphics Overclocking: Getting The Most From Your GPU
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MSI Core CenterMSI Core Center

All told, there are three different ways to overclock the MSI GeForce GTX 260 Lightning. Option one is using the D.O.T. feature integrated in the driver, which we have already covered. Option two consists of MSI’s CoreCenter, which is available as a separate download. This tool offers several usage profiles such as Game, Office, Silence, or Cool and lets you monitor (though not adjust) the fan speed.

Option three takes the guise of the AirForce panel and the Lightning software included with the card. In our test, the combination of CoreCenter and Lightning software produced some errors. For example, the CoreCenter profiles were not applied correctly, with the 2D values remaining in effect even when the card switched to 3D mode. Since using two different utilities is redundant anyway, we reinstalled our system and opted to use the Lightning software exclusively. CoreCenter remains a good choice for cards that don’t come with more extravagant features like the AirForce panel and its Lightning software. Other companies offer similar tools, such as Smart Doctor (Asus) or Precision (EVGA).

MSI AirForceMSI AirForce

The AirForce panel is purely a luxury. It draws its power from an internal or external USB port. As soon as the Lightning software is installed, you have everything you need to control your card literally at your fingertips. The panel’s surface is touch-sensitive, and changes are immediately transmitted to the graphics card. Several colored LEDs let you monitor settings, with more LEDs coming on at higher settings. Whenever it detects a change, the Lightning software appears on your screen, giving you a detailed readout of the card’s exact frequencies, temperature, and fan speed, as well as the voltages for the memory and GPU.

MSI LightningMSI LightningThere are three basic profiles to choose from: Game, Office, and Power Saving, and each can be set to its own GPU, shader, and memory frequency. Your settings are saved for each profile, but if things do go bad, you can also reset the card to its default settings (default being the card's factory overclocked frequencies, of course).

This also corresponds to the software’s “Game” profile, by the way. Thus, any overclocking you attempt is on top of those elevated factory settings, and you can increase frequencies for the GPU, shaders, and memory separately. We hit a maximum of 680/1,458/1,050 (GPU/shaders/memory), which doesn’t look like too much of an improvement over the card’s stock speed of 655/1,404/1,000 MHz until you take into account that a normal GeForce GTX 260 is clocked at 576/1,242/999 MHz.

The Power Saving configuration also bears mentioning, since it can reduce power consumption from 137 to 122 Watts.

2D Mode AirForce Panel
Clock Speeds (GPU/Shaders/Memory)
Watts (2D)
Temperature (2D)
dB(A) 2D
Game
655/1,404/1,000137
43
36.5
Office
350/700/600132
42
36.5
Power Saving
300/600/100122
40
36.5
Game Maximum
680/1,458/1,050137
43
36.5
Office Maximum
550/1,100/900135
43
36.5


In order to stabilize the card at higher clock speeds, you can additionally increase the voltage for the memory and the GPU using the AirForce panel. We had to crank the voltage up to the second-to-last setting to get our sample stable at our final overclock. Since you can only choose from predefined settings, that would seem to imply that the hardware should survive at these levels. The fan speed profile also takes the additional overclocking into account, and the fan spins up quite audibly to tackle the additional heat output. Thus, heat shouldn’t be a problem, and we are happy to report that even the memory modules are cooled as well.

Game Mode
Minimum
Stable
Maximum
GPU Voltage
1.0700 Volts1.1200 Volts
1.1325 Volts
Memory Voltage
1.8500 Volts
1.8800 Volts
1.9000 Volts


Sparkle CalibreSparkle CalibreSparkle offers a similar product in its GeForce 9600 GT Calibre, which also comes with a panel. It connects to the card using a ribbon cable, allowing turning the panel into a control interface. In Sparkle’s case, however, the selection is limited to predefined profiles such as Green (energy saving), Standard (default clock speeds), and OC.

A major advantage of this approach is that, since the profiles are saved directly in the panel and the graphics card and are transmitted directly to the card via cable, you are completely independent of the driver. Thus, you’ll never need to worry about the O/C feature breaking in a future driver release.

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